Mormon news feeds everywhere have been posting their pride of the newest LDS temple located in Payson, Utah. A great and spacious building according to Deseret News in their announcement. Ok they didn’t use exactly the words great and spacious. ‘Massive’ and ‘sweeping’ were the synonyms specifically used in the article. But trust me the irony of the church being so proud of this beautiful building and calling for everyone to come see it is not lost on a student of the Book of Mormon. 1 But I digress. This article isn’t about the elaborate spare no expense efforts of building huge ornate structures that require you pay2 the church just to get in them. It is about one person in particular and the price she paid.
Her name was Jane Elizabeth Manning. Her picture now hangs in the Payson temple. Since the First Presidency approves all art work in the temples, you can be sure they meant for it to be there. The question is why? Is it because she was such a faithful person? Or is there a need the leaders feel to scrub their racist history and say, ‘here see how much we love black people!’
Turns out there is an article on LDS org about this woman and her life. While reading through it, this bit jumped out at me and I suspected there was a ‘rest of the story.’3
“Jane remained part of the Smith household for several months. While there, she enjoyed the association of Joseph and Emma’s family and visited often with the Prophet’s mother, Lucy. Eventually Jane became friends with other members of the household such as Sarah and Maria Lawrence and Eliza and Emily Partridge.”
How did I know? Well having studied a lot about the women around Joe Smith, I knew Jane’s friends had a back story that was being glossed over here. In Emily’s own words:
“He taught me this principle of plural marriage…but we called it celestial marriage…”
Yep, the Partridge sisters were polygamous wives of Joe! You know that stuff good members are supposed to avoid speculation about. If you are a believing member reading this, here is another tidbit you should do your best to not think about. The Lawrence sisters were also wives of the prophet. In fact when William Law made all that plural marriage stuff public, there was a lawsuit he initiated at the time using Maria Lawrence as proof that Joe was living in adultery. Polygamy was against the law at the time in the US. And it still is. You see why my bullshit detector was going full tilt when I read these names? I was sure this was more of the careful wording4 that the church admittedly practices when it comes to disclosing church history. Because you know, they can’t be bothered to actually admit they were wrong and simply apologize.5
After some googling I turned up a few articles about Jane. In the first one, I found out that Jane was the Kate Kelly of her time, she just didn’t get a group of people to follow her. (Which is probably the reason she wasn’t excommunicated.) Back then it was far easier to get a personal sit-down with top church leaders than it is today. And don’t forget this woman had been part of Joe and Emma’s household. Emma even proposed adoption to her. You have to wonder at the rate Joe collected wives in his household during this time if other proposals might have occurred and been shut down. But on to her story.
Repeatedly Jane asked for the same blessings of the temple that were granted to the white people of her day and age. And repeatedly she was denied.
From Wilford Woodruff’s Journal: 6
(218) October 16, 1894: We had meeting [s] with several individuals among the rest, Black Jane [who] wanted to know if I would not let her have her Endowments in the Temple. This I could not do as it was against the Law of God, as Cain killed Abel. All the seed of Cain would have to wait for redemption until all the seed that Abel would have had, that may come through other men, can be redeemed.
Sure these days the church disavows anything to do with skin color being a curse. But that is now. This was then. According to the leaders of her time, Jane was cursed. They continued to deny her request for temple endowments because they were confident that God himself had instituted the conditions that had enslaved these people and made them servants of the white man. The original prophet himself in a letter to Oliver Cowdrey used the scriptures of the bible to explain this concept.
So Jane was denied the same blessings given those of a paler complexion. However after these many requests she was eventually allowed to be sealed to Joseph as a servant in the next life. Think about that and look at how Joe viewed servants in the biblical sense in his own letter. Servants to these men were equivalent to slaves to their masters. Sure they admonished the masters to treat them decently (thank Fridge!) but still they were not considered to have any hope of redemption until after all of the white people got their chance. Deny this all you want but the evidence is clear that at the time Jane was denied priesthood temple blessings, the brethren believed it was God’s doctrine and thus church doctrine7 to deny her petition. Jane wasn’t the only person that got slapped down for questioning this stuff. If you haven’t read the letters of Dr Lowry Nelson make sure you do so. Here is a link to them.
Over and over again in church history this race based denial to black people comes up as doctrine condoned by God himself. It’s what the leaders of that day and age declared to be the word of the Lord as given by the mouth of his servants.
These days the church would like to shove that all down the memory hole to be forgotten. They disavow any of this being real, as if it was some sort of grand 100 year running mistake by old prejudiced dudes preaching the philosophies of men instead of what God wanted. This is a disservice to Jane because she believed the racist doctrine they preached to her and her faith still withstood the test of time! It was her faith that the doctrine would eventually change that kept her in the church. The leaders who preached blind obedience to follow the brethren were the ones that were wrong. At least that is what the church is telling us today… Makes you wonder what will be disavowed tomorrow doesn’t it?
Now Jane gets to be the poster child for the all inclusiveness of the church in its latest grand PR effort of building ostentatious temples. Soon to be found even in Haiti, the poorest country in the world. Why dump millions into these great and spacious buildings? Why hang pictures of servants that were sealed to Joe Smith in them?
One reason and one only. Marketing. And that my friends is nothing but disrespect for a woman that showed so much courage to challenge the status quo. Jane Elizabeth Manning agitated for change. Just like Kate Kelly. But… Since she was quiet about it; since she didn’t start a movement and gain a following, she was turned into … a commercial!
- Lehi’s dream included a great and spacious building that he people partying in are so proud of. For Irony of irony, I suggest you go check out the fact that Joe Smith Sr recorded pretty much the same dream in 1811… Yep, turns out he told that story over and over to his kids too. Hmm maybe the reason it was in the BoM wasn’t all that miraculous and it was just some filler that Joe Jr needed after losing those first 116 pages. ↩
- Technically you pay only after they are dedicated, you have good incentive too. Because if you don’t pay to get in, then your family is kept hostage from you in the afterlife according to LDS doctrine. ↩
- nod to Paul Harvey 🙂 ↩
- Also known as lying… unless you think Bill Clinton was telling the whole truth when he said ‘I did not have sex’… ↩
- Wouldn’t it be awesome if the church could actually take the first step of repentance that they demand of all their members? ↩
- search the page for ‘Black Jane’ to find the context, Also here is a link to the text of the transcript scans. ↩
- The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.
—First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949 ↩
[…] building fine sanctuaries before feeding the poor, sexism, treating women like property, sealing a black woman to the “prophet” as an eternal slave, and so on are woven throughout the history of the church, and 2015 is not much different. Today, […]
Is her status still “as a servant to Joseph Smith”? Was there any change at all when the policy changed? I have not heard anything to the contrary. So let me ask, when we talk about polygamy, can we not include Jane and have this most important story told, and told, and told. This story needs more attention. Thanks Fridge person.
Thank you so much for the link to the Lowry Nelson letters to the First Presidency. I have a great deal of respect for this man and his ability to identify truth, and for his ability to express himself honestly to the highest levels at that time. The world needs more people like him. I intend to be one such person.
I have traveled my career to a near 100 countries..its now 2015, and Lowry Nelson was as right then as now. I will share this communication with as many Mormon’s as I possibly can….including to my sister and brother in law who will soon be Mission Presidents in a souther state.
Here is a link without the whited out sections. Had a believer in a debate tell me they didn’t trust these scans because of that. Found this other source.
Where do I go to get the church to remove her picture. It is disrespectful to Blackness to have her as a symbol of eternal slavery. Black woman in the ultimate edifice of white supremacist male chauvinism is a spit in my face and my race as a Black man.
[…] There’s a painting of Jane Manning in the new Payson Temple — which, presumably, is to highlight the CoJCoL-dS’s racial inclusiveness — but you’d think that if they had any sense, they’d realize that this is the last story they want to draw attention to: […]
If I am remembering correctly, Jane was sealed as a slave but it was done by proxy as she could not enter the temple.
This is true, and I am glad you pointed it out as I neglected to do so. Here is some more info on the topic.
“Her request was refused. Instead, the First Presidency “decided she might be adopted into the family of Joseph Smith as a servant, which was done, a special ceremony having been prepared for the purpose.” The ceremony took place on May 18, 1894, with Joseph F. Smith acting as proxy for Joseph Smith, and Bathsheba W. Smith acting as proxy for Jane James (who was not allowed into the temple for the ordinance). In the ceremony, Jane was “attached as a Servitor for eternity to the prophet Joseph Smith and in this capacity be connected with his family and be obedient to him in all things in the Lord as a faithful Servitor”